Cricket - the quintessential game invented by the English using red leather balls and ideally suited for the green, carpet-like cool grass of England with the players wearing cream-coloured flannels. The English loved their cricket so much that with the expansion of their empire they took this game to their colonies, including India where green grass gave way to hard brown soil, but the game remained the same with the English still wearing their warm flannels despite the Indian heat.  Lagaan uses the game of cricket as the backdrop to provide entertainment for 3 hours and 45 minutes while looking at a number of social, political and cultural themes.

LAGAAN   out of

Once Upon A Time in India

Directed by : Ashutosh Gowariker

A review by Albert Michael

The year is 1893.  The monsoon rains for the second year in a row have failed to arrive in the small village of Champaneer in the Kutch-Bhuj area of Rajasthan endangering the village crops.  The village as well as the whole province pays Lagaan (i.e. taxes) by giving most of their grain crops to the local king Raja Puran Singh who keeps a share for himself and gives the rest to the British regiment in the area headed by one insensitive Captain Ambrose Russell. The actor Paul Hawthorne plays to a tee the wide spread behavior and attitudes of British officers during that colonial era.  His body language, use of Indian language and treatment of Indians displays the characteristics of a real British sahib!

With the failure of monsoons and consequently their crops, a group of villagers lead by the village headman set off to visit the Raja Puran Singh to plead their case of being excused from paying the tax.  As a guest of the English, the Raja is watching a game of cricket being played by the British officers.  The Indian rajas of the period often tried to please both sides by being friends with the British as well as trying to retain their Indianess by seeming to be fair-minded to their own people.  In the meeting after the game with the Raja, an idealistic and nationalistic young villager named Bhuvan comments “... we came to meet you and not watch this silly stupid game...”.  This remark is overheard by Captain Russell, who understands and speaks the local Indian language.

In his opinion the remark attacks the very essence of Englishness.  The comment, coming from an insignificant native so incenses the English captain that he proceeds to challenge the idealistic and unsuspecting villager to a game of cricket.   The stakes?  If the villagers win, the village and the rest of the province will be excused from paying taxes for three years.  If the English win, the villagers and the province will have to pay triple lagaan – a threefold tax.  It is an impossible bet and the house is bound to win, but as any young man with passion and fury for a colonizer will do, Bhuvan - though not the village headman - accepts the challenge.   In my opinion, and in the eyes of  Bhuvan, the real stakes for accepting the challenge are to shed the shackles of  British oppression.  

The movie proceeds to show how the village and the province hates and shuns Bhuvan for placing them in this totally un-winnable situation.  With only his mother (Mai ) and Gauri his sweet-heart to support  him in this do or pay challenge, Bhuvan uses his charm, cunning and nationalistic fervour to assemble a team of non-descript villagers.  

The movie plays out a number of themes in this section.  The first relates to the whole issue of distrust between Hindus and Moslems and yet shows their willingness to live and let live. Moreover, it shows how cricket, to this day, acts as an unifying force between Hindus and Moslems both in the composition of the team as well as cheering on of the Indian teams by both communities. 
The second theme relates to the discomfort of Indians with the Indian caste system .  A so called untouchable, with an ability to spin the ball is initially unwelcome on the team.   But he is slowly accepted on the team and is their eventual hero who confuses the British batters with his beguiling spin bowling.  In fact he performs a hat-trick by taking 3 consecutive wickets – a feat applauded by both the British and the villagers.   Spin bowling by Indian teams remains to this day a talent very few other teams can match.
Once assembled the team has no idea how to play cricket except Bhuvan telling them that it is similar to playing “ gilli-danda”- a game every Indian boy knows and plays by hitting a small wooden “ gilli “ with a longer stick called “ danda” (imagine playing stick ball and replace ball with a small 6 inch wooden  piece).  They make homemade bats and a ball, but are lost in their uncoordinated effort to play a game totally alien to them.  
Their frustration ends when Elizabeth, the sister of Captain Andrew Russell offers help to the village team.  She tells Andrew that she must do this because ‘... what happened to them is totally unfair and I want to give them a fair chance ...”.   A beautiful theme here is that the British, in spite of their arrogant ways towards the Indian people, have a sense of fair-play and balancing the playing field for the under-dogs.  The match shows many examples of the love of rules, regulations, conventions, etiquette and fair mindedness.  This fair play is demonstrated when the commanding officers, higher than Captain Russell, bring in neutral umpires from a the far away Indian city of Kanpur to referee the match.
The “High Noon” of the match day arrives with the village team believing that “... for the Whiteys it’s only a game- for us it is our life...” and the English team convinced that no one, certainly not this rag-tag team of bare-footed “ darkie-villagers “, can beat them at a game that is the very expression of English character.  The match is a three day event, with each team batting once and the team with the higher score winning.  The wager is to be settled as agreed upon earlier.  The match is played with passion and excitement.   The viewers cannot sit on the fence here - one has to root for one or the other. 
There is much ebb and flow to the game.  On the night before the final day of play, the movie shows how deeply the Indian psyche is rooted in spirituality.  While other cultures may spend time on preparing a detailed game plan to win a match, the village team spends their last night in prayer.   They plead with their God to bless their effort with victory for they truly believe “... he who has truth and courage in his heart, it is he who wins at the end...”  
The storyline, the well-timed and moving songs and dances, the vibrant colours of the scenery and photography and the clear sub-titles make this movie a feast for the eyes, mind and heart.  Although the film states that Lagaan is fictional, it has piqued my interest to find out if the story was even broadly based on a similar event.   The final comment in the movie: “... the name of Bhuvan has been lost in the pages of history ...” seems to imply some historical basis for the movie which, for the truth-seekers, would certainly make an interesting pursuit. 

Lagaan is one of the films nominated for the “Best Foreign Movie“ Oscar.  

FILM and DVD Details 

Full Cast and Crew for
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) 

Directed by 
Ashutosh Gowariker 

Writing credits (in credits order) 
Kumar Dave (screenplay) 
Sanjay Dayma (screenplay) 
Ashutosh Gowariker (screenplay) 
Ashutosh Gowariker (story) 
K.P. Saxena (dialogue) 

Cast (in credits order) 
Aamir Khan .... Bhuvan 
Gracy Singh .... Gauri 
Rachel Shelley .... Elizabeth Russell 
Paul Blackthorne .... Captain Andrew Russell 
Suhasini Mulay .... Yashodamai 
Kulbhushan Kharbanda .... Rajah Puran Singh 
Raghuvir Yadav .... Bhura (as Raghuveer Yadav) 
Rajendra Gupta .... Mukhiya 
Rajesh Vivek .... Guran 
Shri Vallabh Vyas .... Ishwar (as Sri Vallabh Vyas) 
Javed Khan .... Ram Singh 
Raj Zutshi .... Ismail 
Akhilendra Mishra .... Arjan 
Pradeep Rawat .... Deva 
Daya Shankar Pandey .... Goli 
Yashpal Sharma .... Lakha 
Amin Hajee .... Bagha 
Aditya Lakhia .... Kachra 
A.K. Hangal .... Shambukaka 
John Rowe (I) .... Col. Boyer 
David Gant (I) .... Maj. Warren 
Jeremy Child (I) .... Maj. Cotton 
Ben Nealon .... Lt. Smith 
Anupam Shyam .... Namdeo 
Raja Awasthi .... Ramprasad 
Pramatesh Mehta .... Harikaka 
Bhim Vakani .... Kazi 
Amin Gazi .... Tipu 
Anu Ansari .... Jigni 
Parveen Bano .... Kesarya 
Chris England .... Yardley 
Howard Lee (I) .... Burton 
Simon Holmes (II) .... Brooks 
Ray Eves .... Willis 
Jon House .... North 
Neil Patrick (I) .... Harrisson 
Jamie Whitby Coles .... Wesson 
Barry Hart (I) .... Benson 
Alex Shirtcliff .... Flynn 
rest of cast listed alphabetically 
Amitabh Bachchan .... Narrator 

Produced by 
Reena Datta .... executive producer 
Aamir Khan .... producer 
Reena Khan .... executive producer 

Original music by 
A.R. Rahman 

Cinematography by 
Anil Mehta 

Film Editing by 
Ballu Saluja 

Casting by 
Uma Da Cunha 
Danielle Roffe 

Production Design by 
Nitin Desai (as Nitin Chandrakant Desai) 

Costume Design by 
Bhanu Athaiya 

Makeup Department 
Nicole Demers .... makeup designer 
Rina Rizzi .... hair designer (as Pina Rizzi) 

Production Management 
Nikhat Hegde .... production manager 
Ranjit Indori .... production manager 
Shamala S. Rao .... production manager 
Akram Shah .... production manager 
Ashok Shinde .... production manager 

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director 
Urvashi Chugani .... assistant director 
Sanjay Dayma .... chief assistant director 
Reema Kagti .... second assistant director (as Reema Katgi) 
Apoorva Lakhia .... first assistant director 
Priyamvada Narayanan .... assistant director 
Kiran Rao .... assistant director 

Art Department 
Dhanabai Ramji Ahir .... set contractor 
Hemant Bhatkar .... assistant art director 
Eknath Kadam .... assistant art director 
Mavji .... set contractor 
Sanjay Panchal .... assistant art director 
Girish Patil .... assistant art director 
Kalpesh Salve .... assistant art director 
Dilip Satam .... assistant art director 

Sound Department 
Sheikh Gulam Hassan .... boom operator 
Nakul Kamte .... production sound mixer
sound designer
Ashraf Khan .... second boom operator 
Nazim Naseer Peshiman .... second boom operator 
S. Sivakumar .... song recording 
H. Sridhar .... final mixing engineer
song recording 

Other crew 
Asha Bhosle .... playback singer 
Vasundhara Das .... playback singer 
Kishori Gowariker .... playback singer 
Shankar Mahadevan .... playback singer 
Lata Mangeshkar .... playback singer 
Udit Narayan .... playback singer 
A.R. Rahman .... playback singer 
Sadhana Sargam .... playback singer 
Shaan (II) .... playback singer 
Sukhwinder Singh .... playback singer (as Sukhvinder Singh) 
Srinivas (II) .... playback singer 
Anuradha Sriram .... playback singer 
Vaishali (II) .... playback singer 
Alka Yagnik .... playback singer 
Technical Information

Release Information:
Studio: Columbia/Tristar Studios
Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2001
DVD Release Date: January 22, 2002
Run Time: 225 minutes
Production Company: Columbia/Tristar Studios
Package Type: Keep Case

Aspect Ratio(s):
Widescreen Enhanced for 16x9 - 2.35:1 OAR

Discographic Information:
DVD Encoding: Region 1
Audio Tracks: Hindi/English DD 5.1 & Hindi/English DD 2.0
Available subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai

Edition Details:
• Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
• Color, Widescreen, Closed-captioned, Dolby
• Deleted scenes
• Weblink
• Widescreen anamorphic format


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